Biography by William J. Duffy, Jr., a brother
T. Duffy was born August 4, 1898 at San Quentin Village in a house
just a few doors outside the East gate of the San Quentin Prison
Reservation, presently addressed as 21 Mc Kinzie. He grew up in the
village, attending San Quentin Grammar School for eight years and on
to San Rafael to complete his high school education.
grandfather, Truman Dixon Palmer, was a Justice of the Peace, in San
Pablo, for ten years. His father, William J. Duffy,
also, was a Justice of the Peace, in San Pablo, for ten years then
employed by the prison for thirty years. He married a long time girl
friend who also grew up at San Quentin. She was Gladys Carpenter,
who's father was Captain of the Yard.
was commissioned a Notary Public. There was no other Notary Public
available in the vicinity, even at the prison, so Duffy was called to
the office of the Warden often to notarize papers. On one occasion he
heard Warden Holohan say that he wished he had a free person for a
secretary and was going to hire one. Duffy asked for the job, was
hired, and became a state employee. On November 1, 1929 he began
seven years as secretary to the Warden.
Holohan always felt that the hardest part of his job was to preside
over the many executions that were held at the prison. On most of
these occasions he would ask Duffy to accompany him as he did not
want to go alone. Holohan advocated the abolition of hanging and if
executions were necessary, the gas chamber should be used.
time, Duffy developed a firm conviction about the capital punishment
issue and had taken a decided stand against it. Briefly, his stand is
based on his belief that it does not curtail murder, as intended, and
that the victims are the poor and the ignorant and underprivileged.
He believed in and supported this philosophy.
Smith, who was Warden of Folsom Prison, was appointed the Warden of
San Quentin when Holohan resigned. Smith had his own secretary at
Folsom, and wanted him to come to San Quentin, so Duffy was bumped
upstairs and became secretary and historian to the Board of Prison
Directors and one of the secretaries to the Board of Prison Terms and
Paroles. Here he worked for five years.
many months of hearings on brutality, lack of constructive programs,
bad food, killings, etc., the governor fired the Prison Board; the
one for whom Duffy had been Secretary. One member of the new Board
suggested that since Clinton had been born and raised in San Quentin,
and had worked in prison administration for over eleven years, that
surely, he must be somewhat familiar with its management. So when
Duffy was asked if he would become temporary warden and watch the
prison for thirty days while they looked around for a new warden to
replace the one who had just been relieved of his post, Duffy was
very surprised and pleased, as well as honored.
wardens and other appointive positions were usually allocated to
someone who was in favor with the governor. It was a political plum,
based on the old rule of the Spoils system. Duffy's temporary
appointment was expected to be a caretaker position. The board would
have been satisfied if he did nothing more than to keep the prison
operational for 30 days. This, however, would not be the case.
Duffy knew prisoners. He had been brought up in their midst. Surely,
he remembered his father saying many times, "These men are
human. They are much the same as the rest of us. They are
unfortunates who had been imprisoned. If these men were given a
chance, they might redeem themselves, and we should try to help them."
is difficult to understand the importance of the wardenship of San
Quentin at that time. The warden of America's largest and one of the
most notorious prisons, held much more authority than it would seem.
He was in complete control of a group of several thousand men,
regulating their lives, their actions, their every living minute. He
laid out their work and saw to it that it was performed according to
his rules. He planned their spiritual, religious, and intellectual
routine. He programmed their recreation, their health, their future.
Duffy immediately realized his responsibility. He saw his duty, not
as a custodian but as a person with the power to plan and put into
practice a program of rehabilitation. Every life that was salvaged
was a victory for both the man and the government. After all, 95% of
them, at some point, would be released from prison.
these first, and perhaps only 30 days as warden, he abolished all
forms of corporal punishment. He dismantled the dungeon and did away
with that kind of punishment. He talked to every guard and officer
and laid out the new rules that would be followed. Anyone not
following them would be fired. He fired the Captain of the Yard, who
encouraged brutality and he eliminated all other brutal devices such
as whips, etc.
had no backing from political sources, but the Board of Prison
Directors sensed the change in the atmosphere of the prison, both
among the inmates and the employees. They knew that the man that they
needed for warden was already on the job. By the time the one month
of wardenship was up, the entire atmosphere of the prison had
changed. The so-called powder keg that all seemed to be sitting on
before had disappeared. The men were for this warden. He offered a
square deal. He offered hope. He was ready to treat them as men. He
gave them his word. He wanted them to give him their word. There was
nothing else the Board of Prison Directors could do but to name Duffy
as permanent warden. To do otherwise would have incited a riot. So
Duffy became the permanent Warden of San Quentin Prison, a job which
he administered for eleven and one-half years.
Duffy began to work on plans for a better educational system. This
meant that education had to be for many who could not even read or
write; for men who had very little education in the grade schools;
for others who had missed high school, and for some who were ready
for college courses. He let the inmates know this. Many had never
before had the opportunity for this. Now, perhaps, they can have a
future in this world, that does not relate to crime. Duffy felt a
sincere obligation to turn each man loose from prison as a better man
than he was when he arrived there. It was just as simple as that.
reforms were introduced. He changed the inmates showers from sea
water to fresh water; initiated an inmate committee to represent the
prisoners, replacing the former thug rule; built up the educational
system, both in ordinary schooling and vocational training;
introduced college courses, through the help of nearby Marin Junior
College; started a guidance center; abolished the use of numbers on
clothing, which were used instead of names. He was the first to put
inmates on war work, an enterprise that later became general in other
prisons reclaiming vast quantities of material from the Pearl Harbor
wreckage, an incredible tangle of wire, aluminum, rubber, copper and
steel brought from Hawaii. It was hard and meticulous work, but the
salvage was very valuable and gave many a man an inspiration to
better himself and to leave the prison a rehabilitated man. He also
set up a program for manufacturing supplies for our navy.
important accomplishment at the prison, was the installation of a
sewage treatment plant, replacing the direct discharge of sewage into
always referred to them as inmates, and as men, not as cons or
prisoners. But he let them know that there would be discipline. He
told them that his job required that he keep them in custody until
their time had been served. He also let them know that he would
perform this duty with the help of armed guards. And one thing he
made clear at the start. If any attempted to break for liberty and
used hostages to protect them from rifle fire, the guards were
ordered to shoot to kill, even if the hostage was the warden himself.
This and other messages were plain talk. The men understood this kind
were astonished and thought it was the height of recklessness when
Duffy walked among the inmates, hundreds of them, alone and without a
body guard. He would stop and chat with many, and even listen to the
problems of some, writing a memo about it in his notebook. It was
sure to have his attention later. No other warden had ever done this,
but during his service as warden, there was no violence whatsoever.
all of the trying times at the beginning, and also throughout his
entire career as Warden, Gladys, his wife was a constant consultant
and loving support. When a closed communication system was installed
in the prison, Gladys put on a weekly program for the inmates. It was
very well received and highly regarded. Her theme song was Time on My Hands.
continued the use of "honor camps" or road camps first
started by Warden James A. Johnston. Carefully selected men were
taken from the prison and brought to the camps which were established
and put to work on state roads. Aside from the freedom of the
outdoors, the rugged and beautiful surroundings, the inmate could
earn two days of his time for every one day that he spent in camp,
thus cutting his time to be served in half. These highway camps
proved to be quite successful and were expanded. In the period of
intensive food production during World War II some camps were
established to assist in farm labor. These were more difficult to
manage and some were not successful. Later, inmates were also sent
out to fight forest fires in the mountains. Many men distinguished
themselves with bravery and great loyalty.
Duffy left the prison as warden his reforms at San Quentin made it a
model in advanced penology. He continued to work in the field of
penology. He was appointed to the Adult Authority Board, the
successor to the old Board of Prison Directors and the Parole Board.
He served five years. After his retirement he traveled around the
United States and other countries lecturing about the penal system
and speaking against capital punishment.
was national president of the Seven Steps Foundation, an
organization formed by Bill Sands, a former San Quentin inmate, for
the purpose of helping ex-convicts after they get out of prison.
Sands also wrote a book titled My Shadow Ran Fast
in which he credits Duffy for his full rehabilitation.
had several books published. The first was as told to Dean Jennings,
titled, The San Quentin Story. It was released
motion picture, Duffy of San Quentin, was
released in 1954 highlighting many of the reforms he introduced. The
warden was played by Paul Kelly who, incidently, had been an inmate
at San Quentin several years before.
Duffy also wrote a book titled the Wardens Wife
and relates to their lives at San Quentin. It was released in 1959.
second book was prepared by Al Hirshberg, and released in 1962. It
was titled, 88 Men and 2 Women, the title being
the number of executions held in the eleven and one-half years of his
wardenship. Again, with Al Hirshberg, released in 1965, a book
titled, Sex and Crime.
last book, released in 1977, was titled From Heroin to San Quentin,
written in collaboration with Eva Irene Linkletter.